1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Anonymous, in "The Augustan Age in England" The Album 1 (1822) 222-23.



Besides this host of poets, whose names are in every body's month, there are many others of very great — some of the greatest — merit, who are, from various causes, less celebrated. There is Mr. SHELLEY; who possesses the powers of poetry to a degree, perhaps, superior to any of his distinguished contemporaries. The mixing his unhappy philosophical tenets in his writings, has prevented, and will prevent, their becoming popular. His powers of thought, too, equally subtle and profound, occasionally lead him beyond the capability of expression, and, in those passages, he, of course, becomes unintelligible. The recurrence of these has led some readers to stigmatize his works generally as incomprehensible, whereas they are only the blemishes which disfigure them, and which are far more than repaid by countless and exquisite beauties. Can any one, indeed, read the Prometheus Unbound, with a candid spirit, and not admit it to be a splendid production? We condemn, most unreservedly — for in these days it is necessary to speak with perfect clearness on these subjects — the introduction of his offensive philosophy. We admit the occasional obscurity, sometimes amounting to unintelligibility, of his expression; but we do say, that, in despite of these faults, and we fully admit their magnitude, Prometheus Unbound is a production of magnificent poetical power. Did our limits permit us to give extracts, we would place this on indisputable ground. The length, however, to which this paper has already run obliges us to content ourselves with referring our readers to the poem. Nor does Mr. Shelley want sweetness and tenderness when he chooses to display them. The Sensitive Plant is as beautiful a specimen of playful yet melancholy fancy as we remember to have seen. If Mr. Shelley would write a poem in which he would introduce more tenderness and less gloom; never permit his subtlety of thought to run into obscurity; and, above all, totally omit all allusion to his philosophical opinions, we are very sure that it would become universally and deservedly popular. This, to be sure, is asking him to cure himself of all his faults; but where they are those of commission not of omission — where they arise from misapplication of genius, not from want of it — we always look upon it to be within the power of volition to get rid of them — at least, in a very great degree.